Support Marketplace

Why is Congress focusing on poverty?

An ice sculpture reading Middle Class is displayed in Tampa, Florida.

Income inequality is at levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s, according to Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. But Burtless says there’s a key difference between then and now -- government safety net programs like unemployment benefits and food stamps. But Burtless says the fruits of the current economic recovery aren’t being distributed equally.

"The stock market has hit new record highs and there has been a very sharp recovery in the income position and the wealth position of people who were very affluent," he says. 

Wages for lower income Americans haven’t improved much since 2007.  And, Burtless says, the high unemployment rate certainly doesn’t help.

“If there are three people looking for a job for every vacancy then workers are in a very weak bargaining position," he explains.

And those workers are spread out. In Republican, and Democratic congressional districts. Which is one reason why both parties are paying attention to inequality. 

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...